The sheer beauty of the vegetables arriving in the markets — that would be arriving from California and Mexico; that would be arriving in supermarkets, given that I write from Missouri, where gardeners worry whether there's still time to get cool-weather lettuces, peas too, into soggy gardens — some times stops me in my tracks. If I close my eyes, I can conjure them again, even many weeks later. Last winter, purple-topped turnips glistened in the mist. (Does your supermarket announce the start of the produce misters with a lively rendition of 'Singin' in the Rain'? Mine does!) A couple of weeks back, the eggplants were baby-bottom smooth, there was no not running a hand along their smoky curves. This week's vegetable miracle was a bin overflowing with perfect white heads of cauliflower, unblemished, taut with life.
When a beautiful head of cauliflower presents itself, I'm tempted to cook it whole, like my mother did, but the idea always seemed a touch fussy. Hardly! All it took was trimming the cauliflower (which has to happen anyway) and then cooking it in shallow boiling water for 20 minutes. Yes, that easy. And isn't it pretty?!!
KITCHEN PARADE by SHIRLEY I'm publishing this recipe today, especially, because serving a whole head of cauliflower was one of my mother's very favorite recipes for 'company dinners' and today would have been one of celebration, her 80th birthday. More of my mother's recipes are collected in one place at Kitchen Parade by Shirley, memories through recipes.
UPDATE No cheese in the house? No problem, try this dramatic-looking cauliflower, the head is roasted whole! You definitely want to try this Whole Roasted Cauliflower with Lemon Vinaigrette.
WHOLE CAULIFLOWER with HOMEMADE CHEESE SAUCE
Time to table: 30 minutes
Serves about 8
HOMEMADE CHEESE SAUCE
1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon minced onion
1 tablespoon flour
1 cup milk (see TIPS)
4 ounces good melting cheese (see TIPS), in small pieces
In a medium saucepan, melt the butter on MEDIUM HEAT, add the onion and let cook til just soft. Stir in the flour and combine well until any possible floury clumps are worked out. Let the flour cook for a minute or two (see TIPS). Slowly add the milk (see TIPS), a tablespoon at a time at first, incorporating each spoonful completely before adding another. Add the cheese and let melt, stirring often with a wooden spoon (see TIPS) until fully melted. Do not allow to boil. Cheese sauce may be made in advance and gently rewarmed to serve.
Two inches water
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1 whole head of cauliflower, rinsed well under running water
Warm cheese sauce
Smoked paprika, fresh herbs, fresh chives, other garnish, optional but pretty
Fill a large pot (see TIPS) with about two inches of water and salt and bring to a boil.
Trim off the cauliflower leaves. Working carefully, use a knife to cut a shallow V in the core, cutting away the very center but without severing any florets, this might take one or two tries. Insert the tip of the knife into the center of the visible florets a half inch or so, this lets the heat more easily penetrate the inner core without overcooking the outer areas.
Core-side down, place the cauliflower in the pot, cover and cook with the water simmering happily away for 20 minutes or until the cauliflower's core is fully cooked. Gently remove from the pot and let drain, core side down, in a colander or on a double layer of paper towels for a minute. Gently lift into a serving bowl.
Immediately, top with a warm layer of cheese sauce and sprinkle with paprika or another garnish. Serve immediately with remaining cheese sauce on the side.
ALANNA's TIPS & KITCHEN NOTES
MILK Skim milk and other low-fat milks can be used but can, some times, turn out a little bit grainy so I usually use whole milk, despite the added calories.
MELTING CHEESE My mother was partial to Kraft American cheese for melting, Velveeta too. I tell myself that I'm 'honoring' her by continuing the tradition but the truth is, I'm partial to their melting qualities too. Anyone unemcumbered by such plebian taste might use use Gruyere, Fontina, Monterey Jack. I see notes that advise against using low-fat cheeses but don't have that personal experience.
WOODEN SPOON To avoid stringy cheese sauce, stir with a wooden spoon rather than using a whisk.
POT Make sure your pot is deep enough to hold the cauliflower after it's cored. If there's room for a steamer basket, you might use it.
~ One-Skillet Cauliflower with Cheese ~
~ Cauliflower Mac 'n' Cheese ~
~ Creamy Cauliflower Gratin ~
~ more cauliflower recipes ~
from A Veggie Venture
~ Cauliflower Salad with Fresh Herbs ~
~ Lighter Mashed 'Potatoes' ~
~ Cauliflower Risotto ~
~ more cauliflower recipes ~
from Kitchen Parade, my food column